Talia Avakian
December 04, 2017

President Trump is expected on Monday to announce a plan by his administration that will significantly reduce the size of two national monuments in Utah

Under the proposed changes, both Utah's Bears Ears National Monument and the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument could be cut by more than half in size. 

The announcement will come after a months-long review into 27 different national monuments throughout the country conducted by the Trump administration. 

While it would not mark the first time a president has reduced the size of a national monument, the decision is raising protests from conservation groups and Native American tribes who have fought for years to designate these lands as national monument, and could signal the first time the court looks at the issue of whether a president can legally take these actions, according to the New York Times

Getty Images/The Washington Post

Here's what you need to know about the national monuments, and how they might change under the current plan. 

Where is Bears Ears National Monument?

Bears Ears National Monument is located in southeastern Utah in the San Juan County and covers a total of 1,351,849 acres. The national monument is home to a variety of historic Native American artifacts, rock art dwellings, and ceremonial sites.

The area is also famous for its cliff formations, with its two towering twin buttes that stand in the center of the monument giving it its name. The national monument is also known for the recreational activities it offers visitors, from rock climbing to fishing.

What is President Trump Doing to Bears Ears?

Leaked drafts of government Bears Ears maps obtained by organizations like the Wilderness Society show that the plan could reduce Bears Ears National Monument by some 85 percent, from 1.35 million acres down to 201,397 acres. It would also be divided into two monuments, according to the Bears Ears map.

Monday’s announcement comes after Trump asked Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to conduct a review on the protections of 27 national monuments throughout the country, saying in April that the move would help put an end to “another egregious abuse of federal power” while “giv[ing] that power back to the states and to the people where it belongs,” according to the Associated Press.

President Barack Obama created the national monument in 2016 because of its array of cultural and historic artifacts.

The changes, which come as an effort to open up a portion of the lands for commercial use and development, will mark the first time in 50 years that a president has attempted to roll back land protections at this scale, according to AP.

The decision has sparked outrage from a variety of progressive groups, with five Native American tribes and conservations groups saying they will challenge the decision in court, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.


How is the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument affected?

President Bill Clinton erected Utah's Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996 because of information the area could provide to science and culture through its billion-year-old mineral formations.

The area is known for a series of plateaus descending from Bryce Canyon toward the Grand Canyon, in addition to areas that include the Kaiparowitz Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante, where the Escalante River flows through narrow and towering canyons.

Under the proposed plan, Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante will also be cut in half, downsizing from roughly 1.9 million acres to 997,490 acres. It would also be split into three different areas, each of which would become a new national monument. These three would include the Grand Staircase National Monument, the Kaiparowits National Monument, and the Escalante Canyons National Monument, according to National Geographic

The current review may also include changes to 25 other monuments, with the decision shedding light on varying standpoints when it comes to the Antiquities Act of 1906, which allows presidents to erect national monuments. While some see the act as the basis of conservation, some critics argue that presidents have abused the act in terms of the size of land they set aside.

While this is not the first time a president has reduced the size of a national monument, the legal battle that could come out of Monday's announcement will mark the first time a court rules on whether a president has the right to do so or not. 

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